Jerry Jones said Tuesday that DeMarco Murray would remain Dallas’ top runner even upon the return of Felix Jones, who missed four games with a high ankle sprain.
With 682 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns over those four games, boasting a robust rushing 8.0 yards per carry, Murray’s performance left the Cowboys with no alternative.
My incorrect initial pessimism regarding Murray’s fantasy potential was based more on skepticism of his offensive line and Dallas personnel management than Murray’s talent level – he was my fourth-ranked runner in the 2011 draft and a player I thought would go in the first 50 picks. I’ve nonetheless been floored by how well he has played. The 4.41 speed and excellent hands he consistently showed in his college career were expected to carry over into the NFL, but Murray has also consistently displayed strong vision and surprising tackle-breaking ability.
You always have to be wary of fresh-legged runners who look great when they get the ball midseason, but so far Murray looks more like a Jamaal Charles than a Jerome Harrison. Although three of his four matchups featured weak run defenses – the Rams, Eagles and Bills combine to allow 4.8 yards per carry – his average of 8.7 yards per carry from those games is a number too strong to be ignored, and he didn’t look any less impressive as he ran for 139 yards on 22 carries (6.3 YPC) against a Seattle defense allowing just 3.6 yards per carry.
Felix Jones is too explosive to not regain some sort of role in the Dallas offense, but Murray has been too effective the last month to not maintain an average of about 18 or more touches per game. With his remaining schedule (excluding Week 17) featuring defenses that combine to allow 4.4 yards per carry, Murray is poised to finish the season as at least an RB2 in most leagues.
2. Ben Tate is at least a flex start
He’s a risk to get stuck with a marginal workload if the Texans fall behind in games, but Ben Tate is poised to breeze past 1,000 yards this year with the news that Matt Schaub (foot) is expected to miss the rest of the season.
Tate and Arian Foster have combined to carry the ball 163 times for the Texans with Andre Johnson (hamstring) out of the lineup the last five weeks, with Tate averaging 10.8 carries per game. Johnson is expected to return to the lineup after the bye, but Schaub’s absence figures to force an even more run-heavy approach than did the wideout’s injury.
Between Schaub’s injury and the slight if not non-existent blowout threat posed by the teams in Houston’s remaining schedule – Atlanta and Cincinnati might be the most threatening offenses – Tate should consistently see 12 or more carries per game to close out the season. With a rushing average of 4.5 yards per carry or better in eight of his nine games this year and an average of 6.9 or more in four of those games, Tate’s average of 5.6 yards per carry seems surprisingly sustainable.
3. Ed Dickson should remain viable, especially in PPR
Dickson more than likely had his best game of the season when he caught 10 passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle on Sunday, but he can remain surprisingly productive in PPR formats due to his high target volume, even if his upside is limited.
His 8.9 YPC average indicates he’s getting the ball more because Joe Flacco is unable to throw downfield rather than Dickson being especially difficult to cover, but he nonetheless has quietly accumulated 68 targets in nine games, a figure that ranks as the second-highest in Baltimore and is tied for 24th league-wide. Only five tight ends have seen more targets than Dickson.
4. Brent Celek closing in on TE1 status
His lack of early-season work makes him a bit risky, but Brent Celek’s value generally points upward, as he has quietly posted strong numbers the last month.
Of his 54 targets this year, 36 have come the last four weeks alone, the sharp contrast likely due to the Eagles recognizing that opposing defenses had left open the middle of the field in order to shut down routes deep and outside. Celek has rewarded Philadelphia for the shift in strategy, hauling in 22 of those passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns over those four games as safeties sat deep.
Celek has led the Eagles in receptions and/or receiving yardage in three of those four weeks, and with Jeremy Maclin (shoulder, hamstring) questionable for this week’s game, Celek should remain especially active, at least in the short term.
5. Percy Harvin should end season on positive note
Safe to say, 2011 has been a rather disastrous season for Harvin, but it looks like he’s in position to end the year in a fairly encouraging fashion.
He only has 37 receptions for 386 yards in nine games, but in his last four games he has 19 catches for 203 yards on 25 targets. In the five games prior to that he had just 18 catches for 183 yards on 26 targets. That’s one more target and catch per game despite playing only one half against Green Bay on Oct. 23 due to a rib injury. Another way to look at it is that Harvin has 17 catches on 22 targets in his last three full games.
Considering Harvin has 23 carries so far this year, it wouldn’t be surprising if he averaged about 7.5 touches from scrimmage per game over Minnesota’s final seven games. If that happens, Harvin has a decent chance to close out the year as a decent flex play, particularly in PPR leagues.
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